WAITE, Peter (1834-1922)


WAITE, Peter (1834-1922)
pastoralist and public benefactor
was born at Kirkcaldy, Fifeshire, Scotland, on 9 May 1834. On leaving school he was apprenticed to an ironmonger and spent nine years in commercial pursuits. When 25 years of age he sailed to Australia and, landing at Melbourne, went on to South Australia. There he joined his brother James who was part owner of Pandappa station near Terowie. Waite worked on this station for some years and acquired a thorough knowledge of the pastoral industry. He then in conjunction with Sir Thomas Elder (q.v.) bought Paratoo station, and gradually obtained interests in other properties. He was one of the first to realize the value of fenced as against open runs, and spent Over £200,000 in fencing and providing water. For many years he lived in the country and kept a strict eye on the management of his various properties. Later on he was able to hand over much of this management to a son, while he worked from Adelaide. He thoroughly understood the needs of pastoralists, and in 1885 the business of Elder Smith and Company was formed at Adelaide to arrange for their supplies and manage the disposal of their wool and sheep. Waite was elected chairman of directors of the new company and held the position for 37 years, resigning only a few months before his death. The development of this great business owed much to Waite's acumen and foresight. In 1913 he presented to the university of Adelaide his valuable Urrbrae estate comprising 134 acres and house, to which in 1915 was added the adjoining Claremont and Netherby estates of 165 acres. He desired to help the university to deal with problems connected with agriculture, botany, entomology, horticulture and forestry. Three years later he added to these gifts 5880 shares in Elder Smith and Company, then worth about £60,000, to provide an endowment for these estates after his death. With these benefactions the university was able to establish "The Waite Agricultural Research Institute", now a large organization employing many scientists, Waite also gave an adjoining estate of 114 acres to the government of South Australia for the purpose of founding an agricultural high school. This has not yet been done, but in 1928 the government gave the institute the use of this land, which has been subdivided and developed for conducting field investigations on crops and pastures. Waite was working until a few months before his death in his eighty-eighth year, on 4 April 1922. He married in 1864 a daughter of James Methuen of Leith, Scotland, who survived him with a son and three daughters. One of his daughters, Mrs Elizabeth Macmeikan, who died on 5 April 1931, left the residue of her estate, some £16,000, to the university of Adelaide to be used for the study of sciences relating to the land, either in connexion with the Waite research institute or otherwise.
Waite was a modest, shrewd, kindly man who could never be persuaded to talk about his career. His advice was much sought by pastoralists and he was always glad to give them the benefit of his experience. He was generous to the Salvation Army and the various charitable institutions, and among other things, gave £10,000 for the purpose of establishing a provident fund in connexion with Elder Smith and Company. He provided the funds for the Adelaide soldiers' memorial and of his private charities it was said that no deserving person sought his help in vain.
The Advertiser and The Register, Adelaide, 5 April 1922; Calendar of the University of Adelaide, 1940.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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